hospital equipment

Taking Control During COVID-19 Through Advance Care Planning

By Stephanie Anderson and Carole Montgomery

A deep divide exists in the American health care system between patients’ values and the care they receive.

Let’s start with a story – Marcus was in his mid-40’s when he underwent high-risk heart surgery during which he suffered a brain injury. Afterward, the surgeons at first reassured his family that the surgery itself was successful (his heart was working fine) in spite of his brain injury.

Unfortunately, after many days in the ICU he remained unconscious and was not able to get off the ventilator. Specialists told the family that his brain injury was severe, and he would likely not be able to carry on a meaningful conversation or live independently ever again.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

A Physician Reflects on COVID-19 and Advance Care Planning

By Shoshana Ungerleider

It was the end of a 24 hour shift in the ICU when the 85-year-old woman I had just admitted with end stage heart failure began having trouble breathing. While I knew she did not desire “aggressive measures” taken to prolong her life, I wondered what that meant in the context of this moment. Even though I was a young medical resident, I knew without swift intervention, she would not be able to survive the night. I ran into the waiting room to search for her son, her medical decision maker, but he had gone home for the night.

I returned to the bedside to see that my patient was tiring as her breathing was becoming shallow and fast. She was awake and I sat down to explain why she was feeling breathless. I explained that her condition had rapidly worsened and asked if she had ever considered a scenario where she may need a breathing tube. She had not. As her oxygen levels dropped, it quickly became clear that we had to act. What wasn’t clear to me was whether this frail woman would actually survive this hospital stay, and if she truly understood what intubation and mechanical ventilation were and whether this would cause her to suffer.

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empty hospital bed

The COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Necessity of Advance Care Planning

By Marian Grant

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of clearly expressing personal wishes for medical care in emergency situations.

Health systems and providers across the country are seeing how important it is that all of us discuss our medical goals in advance. Not having one’s medical goals known in advance puts a burden on frontline clinicians and loved ones, because it leaves important medical decisions up to them.

You can and should speak up about the kind of medical care you would want, and tell doctors what matters to you. You also should tell those who matter most to you what you’d want if you couldn’t make decisions for yourself.

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Kirkland, WA / USA - circa March 2020: Street view of the Life Care Center of Kirkland building, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part II)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

This post is part II of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In the first installment we assessed the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlined the infection risks for residents and workers. In this second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part I)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

Introduction

This post is part I of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In this first installment we assess the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline the infection risks for residents and workers. In the second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Empty hospital food tray with plate and glass

The Ethics of Dementia Advance Directives for Receiving Oral Food and Water

By Beatrice Brown

Last month, Kaiser Health News (KHN) told the story of Susan Saran, a woman diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. According to KHN, Saran consulted a lawyer and signed an advance directive for dementia after experiencing two brain hemorrhages in 2018. The document directs caregivers to withhold hand feeding and fluids at the end of life for those with advanced dementia. However, her continuing care retirement community told her that they could not honor her wishes because “the center is required by state and federal law to offer regular daily meals, with feeding assistance if necessary.” As noted by Dr. Stanley Terman, “Even when people document their choices – while they still have the ability to do so – there’s no guarantee those instructions will be honored.”

According to KHN, these dementia advance directives are “a controversial form” of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED), wherein a terminally ill patient who still retains mental capacity refuses food and water to hasten their death. VSED is considered by many to be a morally acceptable extension of a patient’s right to refuse treatment, a right codified in the landmark cases of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan. The ethical question here, then, is whether the refusal of hand feeding and fluids requested in dementia advance directives is another form of VSED and is thus morally permissible, or if this refusal is ethically distinct from VSED and is perhaps morally prohibited. Read More

a home hub featuring icons of all the tasks it can assist with in a thinking cloud

Exploring Elder Care Robotics: Voice Assistants and Home Hubs

This article is part of a four-part series that researches how robotics are being developed for aging care and investigates their ethical implications. In our first article, we explored emotional companion robots, which soothe and comfort patients experiencing loneliness, depression, or diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Today, we look at voice assistants and home hubs—robots designed to coordinate and simplify daily tasks around the house. 

What are Voice Assistants and Home Hubs?

Unlike other robots in this series, you are probably familiar with voice assistants and home hubs. These robots, which include Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Siri, Samsung Ballie, and Nest, respond to human commands (voice, motion, or input) to complete tasks like preheating the oven, playing a podcast, or refilling a prescription. Several devices also incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to learn household patterns and anticipate needs.  However, unlike social robots (covered later in this series), voice assistants do not proactively engage with users unless programmed or commanded.   Read More

Illustration of a senior woman walking with modern robot dog

Exploring Elder Care Robotics: Emotional Companion Robots

By Adriana Krasniansky

This article is the first post in a four-part series looking at robots being developed for aging care, as well as their ethical implications. In this first article, we explore the rise of emotional companion robots such as the now-famous Paro, which are designed to soothe and comfort. 

What are Emotional Companion Robots?

Emotional companion robots deliver on a very basic definition of the term “companionship:” they provide emotional soothing and a constant presence for users. Many emotional companion robots are modeled after animal-assisted therapy (AAT) pets, which are trained to calm and support individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive impairments.

AAT in elder care can be challenging; animals risk injury to patients, trigger allergies, and require regular exercise (and bathroom breaks). Animals may also refuse to cooperate, which can further agitate patients. Emotional companion robots have similar demonstrated outcomes to AAT—reducing stress, improving mood, and stimulating conversation—without the logistical hang-ups of animal care.  Read More

Photograph of a doctor holding a headset sitting in front of a laptop

Navigating Sensitive Hospital Conversations in the Age of Telemedicine

By Adriana Krasniansky

On March 5, 2019, a terminally ill patient from Fremont, California, learned that he was expected to die within several days. The doctor who delivered the news did so via a robotic video teleconferencing device. 

Ernest Quintana, a 79-year-old patient with a previously-diagnosed terminal lung condition, was taken to the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center emergency room after reporting shortness of breath. His 16-year-old granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm, was with him when a nurse stopped by and said that a doctor would visit shortly to deliver Mr. Quintana’s results. 

The video below, recorded by Ms. Wilharm, shows Mr. Quintana’s consultation with a critical care doctor through an Ava Robotics telepresence device—in which the doctor explains Mr. Quintana’s rapidly worsening condition and suggests transitioning to comfort care. Ms. Wilharm and her family chose to share the video with local media and on Facebook, inciting a debate around the legal and ethical challenges of using telemedicine in critical care conversations. 

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Two senior women jogging in a park

What Should We Ask About Age-Based Criteria in Healthcare?

In the American health care system, age shapes patients’ options. Most people over age 65 are eligible for Medicare, which is inaccessible to almost everyone under 65.

But many providers limit older patients’ access to certain interventions—like in-vitro fertilization or organ transplants. Some clinical research studies also exclude older patients, while others stratify populations by age. And insurers in the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplaces can legally charge older patients up to three times as much as younger patients, which has motivated calls to let people below 65 buy into the Medicare program (although these proposals use age 55 as an eligibility criterion). Many of these uses of age have generated debate in the past, and are likely to continue to generate debate in the future. Read More